Waterton Lakes National Park
Winter is an excellent time to enjoy the mountain scenery and serenity of Waterton Lakes National Park. It offers opportunities for activities like snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, wildlife viewing, or a walk and a picnic on a beautiful day. The Cameron Lake area is a popular destination for winter activities.
Winter season begins in late October or early November, usually stretching into April. During this time most facilities are closed. Heated washrooms and running water are available at Cameron Falls and inside the visitor centre.
For camping enthusiasts, Pass Creek Day Use Area offers a sheltered winter campground.
Snowshoeing is one of winter’s most accessible activities, and it is a great way to discover the wonders of Waterton Lakes National Park.
Snowshoers are welcome on any of the park's trails. If snowshoeing in the Cameron Lake area, help preserve the groomed ski trails by snowshoeing beside the tracks, not on them. Learn about trail etiquette
Be aware that most trails in the park traverse avalanche terrain.
There are many great winter experiences in Waterton Lakes National Park for all visitors! While some areas of the park are in avalanche terrain, many are safe and accessible to those with little avalanche training. Belleview trail, Wishbone trail (to Vimy junction), Townsite Loop trail and Prince of Wales hill area can be good places to hike and snowshoe to avoid avalanche terrain.
During the winter season, Akamina Parkway is open to vehicles from Waterton Townsite to Little Prairie, where visitors have an expanded parking area to stage winter recreation.
Parks Canada sets skiing tracks on the Akamina Parkway between Little Prairie Day Use Area and Cameron Lake, as conditions allow.
Cameron Ski Trail: Distance (Little Prairie to Cameron Lake) 5 km round trip.
Red Rock Parkway and its trail network is also open for cross-country skiing in winter. Parking is available at the parkway entrance. This road is closed to vehicles from November to May.
Other potential locations to cross-country ski in the park include Chief Mountain Highway and Wishbone trail.
Our neighbouring provincial parks also offer groomed cross-country ski trails:
Whether you are interested in taking a short stroll around the community or accessing more remote locations, Waterton Lakes National Park can be a great place for winter walking and hiking.
Wildlife viewing along the Entrance Road and walking to Cameron Falls in the townsite are excellent winter-time adventures.
Belleview trail, Wishbone trail (to Vimy junction), Townsite Loop trail and Prince of Wales hill area can be good places to walk to avoid avalanche terrain.
Fat biking has become a popular winter activity in the past few years.
Fat bikes are designed specifically for snow (although it’s not just a winter activity), with oversized tires and low tire pressure that provide both traction and float on snowy surfaces. Think snow tires for bikes.
Load up your bike (winter bike rentals are not available in Waterton Lakes National Park) and pedal one of our trails.
Trails suitable for fat biking:
- Akamina Parkway has various fat bike-friendly trails. Little Prairie Day Use Area to Cameron Lake (Cameron ski trail - see trail etiquette), Akamina Pass trail and Crandell Lake trail.
- Red Rock Parkway is closed to motor vehicle access from November to May each year. Bike the entire parkway, and add Snowshoe trail to the trip to make your ride a full-day experience
- Kootenai Brown trail, Wishbone trail, Chief Mountain Highway
Weather permitting, the Red Rock Parkway, Kootenai Brown trail and Wishbone trail are all accessible for standard cycling. Chinook winds often free much of the Waterton valley and east side of the park from snow.
Depending on snow conditions, opportunities for ski touring exist on or off the trail system in Waterton Lakes National Park.
Cameron Lake Cabin, operated by the Alpine Club of Canada, provides an excellent base for ski touring options. The cabin is located next to the Akamina Parkway, near Cameron Lake. In winter, the Akamina Parkway is open to vehicles as far as Little Prairie Day Use Area. From there, visitors are able to cross-country ski or snowshoe to Cameron Lake Cabin (about two kilometres).
Backcountry travel always comes with inherent risks and backcountry travellers are responsible for their own decisions and safety.
The Kenow Wildfire has expanded the terrain available for backcountry skiing in the park, but has introduced new hazards. Fallen logs and sharp branches can be hidden under the snow surface. Ski with caution in the burnt forest. The wildfire has also opened up areas previously sheltered from the wind, and changed the snowpack. Consider what may have been familiar terrain with a fresh perspective.
If the terrain you plan on visiting involves avalanche hazard you will need:
- Training to recognize avalanche terrain and understand the avalanche hazard.
- Avalanche rescue equipment: avalanche transceiver, probe and shovel and the knowledge of how use them for companion rescue.
Many of the trails in Waterton Lakes National Park are classified with Avalanche Terrain Ratings based on the Avalanche Terrain Exposure Scale (ATES) to help visitors determine suitable, planned objectives.
Avalanche Terrain Ratings should be used in conjunction with the current Avalanche Bulletin, issued twice a week for Waterton Lakes National Park during the winter season.
Winter can be a great time for watching wildlife in Waterton Lakes National Park. Depending on winds and snow, you might spot elk, deer, bighorn sheep, moose, river otters, red squirrels, snowshoe hares and marten in the park.
During fall and winter, elk move through in large herds. Look out for them while driving into the park from the north or east. A rare highlight would be seeing one of the park’s wild cats - cougar or lynx – or their tracks.
Bring a sled or inflatable tube and take advantage of the slopes and drifts in Waterton Lakes National Park. Be careful to stay off avalanche paths. Favourite spots are on the Prince of Wales hill and around the townsite.
Bundle up and come for a picnic! Kitchen shelters with stoves are available but you must supply your own wood and pack your own picnic (Grocery and convenience stores are closed in Waterton in the winter). Most picnic areas include a vault toilet.
More information about day use area facilities in the park.
Pass Creek Day Use Area, located on the park's entrance road (Highway 5), about four kilometers from the entrance gate, offers a sheltered winter campground. Facilities include a kitchen shelter, wood stove and toilets. Water from the creek may be used if treated or boiled before use. Potable water is available at the Firehall and heated washrooms are located at Cameron Falls 24/7 and the visitor centre.
The Alpine Club of Canada (ACC) operate a backcountry cabin in Waterton Lakes National Park, Cameron Lake Cabin, providing overnight accommodation in the winter.
There may be fewer birds around in winter, but with no leaves on the trees, they are easier to see. Some are very colourful such as the Steller’s jay. Chickadees, grouse and woodpeckers roam wooded areas, while ravens and eagles soar above, and dippers and goldeneye are in open waters.
From wildlife watching to stunning landscapes, winter in Waterton Lakes National Park offers many opportunities for photographers. When the ground is enveloped in a blanket of snow, the park's surroundings can take on an entirely different perspective.
There are a number of locations in Waterton Lakes National Park suitable for ice climbing. Popular climbs include the Compound Gullies, Quick and Dirty, Expert's Choice, Lineham Falls and Sullivan Falls.
Boulders and cliffs were exposed to extreme temperatures during the Kenow Wildfire, causing some rock surfaces to become brittle. Rocks and climbing areas that were once solid may now have increased rockfall hazard. All anchors and bolts need to be treated with extreme caution. Trees should no longer be considered as secure anchor options.
Winter climbing in the Canadian Rockies presents significant hazards that are unique to this area. Before leaving home, ensure you have the right training and equipment for the terrain you are entering. Climbers must be informed, prepared, aware of their options and respectful of the conditions at all times.
Linnet Lake, located next to the entrance road by the Prince of Wales hill, can be a good place to skate in Waterton Lakes National Park, if conditions are right.
Because of their size and depth, it is not recommended that visitors skate on the main lakes in the park - Upper, Middle and Lower and the Maskinonge.
Be aware that temperatures can rise dramatically in short periods of time in Waterton. Parks Canada does not monitor natural ice surfaces for safety or mark potential hazards.
Skating on natural ice in the Canadian Rockies involves some serious risks. Please review the ice safety information from the Canadian Red Cross.
- Prepare for winter driving conditions and check 511 Alberta for the latest road conditions and closures
- Arrive with plenty of fuel in the tank. The gas station in the park is closed during winter months.
- A valid Parks Canada pass must be displayed in your vehicle for your visit. They are available to purchase at the park gate, visitor centre and online.
- For information on winter accommodation and amenities in the Waterton townsite, visit Waterton Lakes Chamber of Commerce
Winter safety references
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